I read some great novels while I was pregnant. I saw some good movies, too. I might have even picked up some juicy gossip. Nobody gave a hoot. When you’re pregnant, people lose all interest in talking to you about anything beyond your reproductive system.
That might not be so bad if they offered useful advice. The advice I got was about as useful as a string bikini after childbirth. My business-minded friends, for example, told me to have the baby before the first of the year, so my husband and I could deduct him on our taxes. Others were just as serious when they told me to wait until after the new year, so the baby would get a free ticket to the Ringling Brothers circus. (The baby inherited my money-management skills and opted for the circus.)
My sister-in-law Trish told me very seriously that for as long as I was pregnant, I was not to lift my hands over my head. She must have expected me to keep wearing the T-shirt I had on for the entire nine months. She also told my husband that if it weren’t for my pregnancy, she would have invited us for a ride in her boat. I suppose she was afraid I might lose my head and wave at a passing boater.
Of course not everybody I met advised. Some flattered. I don’t know which was worse. The flatterers loved to tell me how lucky I was that I hadn’t gained an ounce in my ankles. I guess they thought that would make me feel wonderful about the 35 pounds I gained everywhere else. My sister-in-law Lynn repeatedly told me that from the back, you couldn’t even tell I was pregnant.
Curiously enough, the most ridiculous advice came from women who had children. One was a friend named Kathy. When I told her I planned to breastfeed, she suggested I start brushing my nipples with a toothbrush to “toughen them up.” Naturally, I added nipple-brushing to my shower routine. I would have kept it up until my delivery if the leader of my breast-feeding class hadn’t told me diplomatically that she’d never heard of anything so absurd.
Trish’s mother, Lenore, informed that to raise a baby properly, I’d have to trade in my Civic for a van. After all, she said, every time I took the baby out, I’d have to bring a stroller, highchair, playpen, bottles, bottle sterilizer, change of clothes for the baby in case he had an accident, change of clothes for me in case the baby had an accident… I didn’t dare mention that my parents raised two reasonable well-adjusted children without ever driving anything bigger than a Chevy Impala; I was afraid she’d turn them in for child abuse.
Ironically, the folks I spent the most time with were refreshingly free of advice and backhanded compliments, if only because they couldn’t even pretend to know a thing about pregnancy. What they did know was deadlines. And they resented the fact that I seemed to get away with repeatedly missing mine. Starting the day I was due, they’d give me that you-lazy-slacker look when I walked in the newsroom, and ask why I wasn’t giving birth. I tried to explain that a due date is not a deadline, and that it’s perfectly normal to be up to two weeks late. Then when I’d walk in the next morning, they’d grill me all over again on why in the world I wasn’t busy giving birth.
While the reporters made me feel like I was dragging my feet, Kitty made me wonder if I was going to have a baby at all. Kitty was a great friend, for about eight months. I ate lunch with her several times a week because she showed a genuine interest in me, and not just my reproductive system. Then she started in with the Braxton Hicks. Braxton Hicks are contractions women have late in pregnancy. They’re supposed to prepare our bodies for labor. As my due date neared, it became clear that my body was woefully unprepared. I would have preferred to keep this shortcoming to myself, but Kitty never gave me a chance. Every day, she’d greet me with a big smile and a question about whether I’d had any Braxton Hicks yet.
Looking back on those nine months, it gives me great satisfaction to say that unprepared as my body may have been, I made it through labor as well as Kitty had after her months of Braxton Hicks. And in spite of what the reporters thought was a pitifully late performance, I couldn’t be more proud of the result. I’m grateful I ignored Lenore’s advice about getting a van. With gas prices hitting the roof, it’s the reason we can still buy our son shoes.
So if you happen to get pregnant, take my advice and tell everyone that you’re due at least a couple weeks past your actual due date. Save your toothbrush for your teeth. And if the going really gets tough, invest in a good set of earplugs.